What a difference a year has made for Tewksbury High's Chris London.
At this time last winter, London was still sidelined with stress fractures in two of his vertebrae, and could not even compete in the prestigious George Bossi Lowell Holiday Wrestling Tournament.
London recovered in time to qualify for, and then win, the 160-pound MIAA Division 2 North Sectional championship last February, and since then, the TMHS senior captain has not looked back.
London has reeled off 15 straight victories without a loss so far this season, and on Thursday evening he punctuated his incredible start by winning the 170-pound championship at the 44th annual Lowell Holiday Wrestling Tournament at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell.
London scored an exciting, come-from-behind, 8-6 overtime victory over Devin Hurst of Warwick, R.I. in the championship match, becoming the first Tewksbury High wrestler to win a Lowell Holiday crown in 13 years. Heavyweight Dave Shunamon was the last Redman to pick up this kind of holiday hardware, back in 1998.
"He did a great job," Tewksbury High coach Brian Aylward said after London won five straight matches, three by pinfall, during the two-day tournament. "To have somebody walk away with the championship in this tournament, that hasn't happened in a long time. Probably not since (Dave) Shunamon in 1998.
"But that's the kind of tournament this is," Aylward added. "It's a once in every 13 years type of thing for a lot of schools. It's a once in never scenario for a lot of teams."
Over 60 schools from all across New England compete annually in the Lowell Holiday Tournament, and nearly 1800 individual matches were contested over the last two days on eight mats set up on the floor of the Tsongas Arena. Tewksbury finished 23rd as a team, with 80 points.
"It's as big a tournament as we compete in, including the sectionals and the states," Aylward said. "There's some great teams here from Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. You'd have to make it to the New England (championships) to see this type of competition again."
On Wednesday London pinned Tyler Mattison of Mt. Anthony, Vermont and Chris Sorenson of Shawsheen Tech to advance to the quarterfinals. On Thursday morning, London dominated Phil Smith of Salem, N.H. and took a 7-0 decision to reach the semi-finals. On Thursday afternoon London pinned Stig McElhinney of Dracut in the second round to advance to last night's championship bout.
In the finals, things looked bleak for London as he fell behind Hurst, 5-2 in the second period. On top for most of the third period, London closed to within 5-3, and the match went into overtime when Hurst was penalized two points for stalling.
"I had thoughts of a disappointment (in the third round) because I wasn't sure I was going to be able to pull it out," London said. "I was hitting a brick wall, but I kinda got saved because he wasn't doing anything and they got him for stalling points."
London wasted no time in taking advantage of his third-round reprieve, shooting for a takedown just 20 seconds into the sudden death overtime period, and ending the match on his first move when he quickly threw Hurst to the mat.
"I had to score as soon as possible because I didn't want to be burning out," London said. "I didn't want to have one of those upset wins where you could have got it, but you didn't shoot in time."
London's quick action earned him the biggest win of his career, so far.
"It feels great," he said. "I was really excited. I haven't been that excited in a wrestling match in a long time.
"It means a lot," he added. "I never thought it would be me. I've always looked forward to this part of my career, but I never thought I'd be doing what I've been doing."
London wasn't the only Tewksbury High wrestler to compete on the tournament's second day. Surprising sophomore 220-pounder Nick Jansen took sixth in his weight class by winning three times on Wednesday.
Jansen got a first round bye, then took a 4-3 decision over Kamron Anderson of Springfield Central in the second round. He pinned Steve Jacobs of Tyngsboro in the second period to advance to the championship quarterfinals. Jansen then advanced to the championship semi-finals by earning a 12-10 decision over Ben Tevitian of Central Catholic.
Thursday wasn't as productive for Jansen as Wellesley's Zach Zeytoonjian edged him, 1-0 in the semi-finals. Two consolation round losses left Jansen in sixth place at 220.
Tewksbury High returns to action on Wednesday with a dual meet at Chelmsford High.